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Archive for February 5th, 2013

what's so great about christianity

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The author of “What’s so Great About America” has written a book on the subject of Christianity. The book is largely a response to the “Brights,” or the New Atheists, such as Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris. In terms of a work coming from a broadly Classical school of apologetics, I would say this work fits the bill in terms of what you expect from this particular approach. My favorite chapter has to be the one on Galileo, in which D’Souza gives the historical account of what historically happened in order to paint the picture that the narrative of science versus faith is way too simplistic. While acknowledging that what has happened to Galileo was rather unfortunate, the author did refute the common myth today that Galileo was tried as a heretic. Instead the trial was for lying to keep a promise to the Catholic Church (not that I endorse this). D’Souza correctly note that this controversy was not over the Bible teaching the Earth is the middle of the solar system as it was a Greek philosophy that thought that the Earth was the center of the universe. I did enjoy D’Souza’s trace of where the various Galileo myths came from going back to certain works in the nineteenth century. In other areas, the book also made a good point about how some have tried so hard to avoid the premise that that there is a beginning for the universe and therefore avoiding the conclusion of a creator. This they do by positing multi-verses (as opposed to a singular universe) that we can’t confirm in our own universe. The author argues that such advocates might as well believe in the existence of heaven and hell as another universe instead. The irony! With that said, I do have some concern with this book. I don’t know if there can really be a strong distinction between Darwinism and Evolution as stated in chapter 13 though I understand that by Darwinists he means ideological evolutionists. One might say a Dawinists is a consistent evolutionists then. I also think D’Souza had a poor argument that evolution must be true because every scientist believes it. I have reservation of D’Souza’s attempt at a solution of making faith and reason compatible. First is his definition of faith and knowledge as related to the believer’s faith. He stated on page 195 that agnostics and Christians have something in common: “The religious believer also does not know,” and then quotes Hebrews 11:1 before saying “If the believer knew, there would be no question of faith.” However, Hebrews 11:1 states that faith “is the [a]assurance of things [b]hoped for, the [c]conviction of things not seen.” Certainly D’Souza is not extrapolating Hebrews 11:1 properly here to make his point: Something not “seen” is not the same thing as not “knowing,” unless D’Souza was an empiricist in his epistemology which obviously he is not given his stance against it throughout the book. Readers must also note that Hebrews 11:1 uses terminology that imply “knowledge” such as “assurance” and “conviction.” Outside of Hebrews 11:1, other passage in the Bible such as 1 John 5:13 talks about the believer’s knowledge as it pertains to his or her Christian faith. D’Souza’s definition of faith is not only unbiblical it seems to be also self-defeating for his apologetics project. This however is not the only thing problematic with his solution at reconciling faith and reason. Secondly, D’Souza defense of faith and reason makes an appeal to Kant’s phenomena and noumena. While rightly noting atheist Daniel Dennett’s response to the author’s use of Kant’s paradigm is less than adequate since Dennett just said it has been refuted without refuting Kant nor shoring up references to scholarly refutation which Dennett asserts exists, it is unfortunate that D’Souza charge against Dennett’s lack of familiarity with the scholarly sources can also be applied to him. D’Souza’s discussion of Kant’s noumena world (which aim is to give room for faith) shows no awareness of concerns that Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til and philosopher Gordon Clark has for Kant’s philosophical paradigm. The concern could be boiled down to a sentence: Kant, in saving “religion” by moving it into the Noumena world has also moved it to realm of the nonrational and makes it inaccessible for reasoning creatures such as man. Perhaps this reveals my bias for Presuppositional apologetics, but there were times reading the book I thought D’Souza’s apologetics could have been stronger if he realized that the goal is to demonstrate Christianity is the solution to our problems more consistently. D’Souza raised a question on page 258 that touches on how one knows the right and wrong standard of morality within themselves in light of our imperfection: “What principle do you have that distinguishes the good inner self from the bad inner self?” D’Souza’s answer: “The Christian solution to this problem is oddly enough not a religious one. It is not to embrace Christ and become a born again believer. Rather, it is to follow the examine path of the impartial spectator which is to take conscience as your guide” (258-59). While conscience is important I would say conscience of sinners can be seared according to 1 Timothy 4:2, and the most important principle for morality is God’s objective Word as revealed in the Bible. Again this is not to downplay inner conscience and our conscience needs to be made to follow God’s standard. Here is where the actual solution contradicts D’Souza’s “solution” since embracing Christ and being Born again lays the foundation for a believer’s renewal of the mind according to Romans 12:2. Otherwise, a unbeliever’s conscience will not be a reliable guide in of itself until that individual has been regenerated. There are little that’s new that I did learned from the book concerning answers to atheist—but I would say for the believer conscious of Reformed Theology and apologetics methodology must read this work as an exercise in discernment as well.

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